Competitive series won by better prepared South Africa

Accross the Board with the WICB
A review by Keith Holder
Stabroek News
May 7, 2001

SOUTH AFRICA will return home as the first holders of the Sir Vivian Richards Trophy but if West Indies are honest with themselves, their hearts must ache that the 2-1 defeat could have been in the reverse or at least a drawn five-Test series.

This is not to take anything away from Shaun Pollock's team. They won because of better preparation, mental toughness, superior fielding and catching and a never-say-die attitude. If only West Indies were able to match such qualities on a consistent basis, it would have been different.

When the South Africans arrived in the Caribbean on March 1, Pollock expressed surprise that West Indies had not yet named a captain a week before the start of the series. It was probably a reflection of the mindset of the regional authorities.

Everyone knew of the preceding wretched tour of Australia and Jimmy Adams' shortcomings as captain and with the bat. Yet, it took island-hopping selectors to be holding a late night meeting in Guyana on February 26 to recommend the captain, and a further four days for the directors of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to confirm Carl Hooper as the new skipper. Then a camp for the squad in Trinidad clashed with the final of the Busta Shield between Jamaica and Guyana in Kingston. As many as ten players were involved in that match.

But for whatever criticism of how the captaincy issue was handled - WICB Chief Executive Officer Gregory Shillingford was gracious enough to issue a release on the matter, March 2 - the West Indies managed to immediately raise their hopes of a competitive series with a commendable performance in the opening Test in Georgetown.

We were all anxious to see how Hooper, on his return to the international arena after dramatically retiring on April 24, 1999, would handle the side. In his usual cool manner, he looked in command on the field, even at times in adversity, and was never afraid to call a spade a spade at Press conferences.

To pass 300 in their first three innings was a positive sign for the West Indies but then suddenly, a target of 232 in a day and a bit became a nightmare and they lost the second Test by 69 runs in Port-of-Spain. Hooper was batting at No. 6 and running out of partners. Someone should have told him emphatically then that in a side with four of the top six still relatively inexperienced, he needed to take the bull by the horn and move a notch up since Brian Lara wanted to stick at No. 4. Hooper, himself, conceded at the end of the first Test that he did not know much about the likes of Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds and Marlon Samuels, the Jamaican trio who occupied the first three batting positions.

Samuels, in only his second Test series, was thrown in at No. 3 and fellow 20-year-old Ramnaresh Sarwan, batted at No. 5. Both are talented but their shot selection and, in the case of Samuels, technique, were questionable. And the selectors were clearly not convinced that the experienced Shivnarine Chanderpaul was in good enough form to be given a chance before the last two Tests.

As it turned out, there were again problems with the openers. Hinds lost his place after the fourth Test to another Jamaican, Leon Garrick, as the selectors totally ignored the experience of Sherwin Campbell. It didn't matter that Campbell had scored 79 and 54 in the last Test "Down Under" and another two half-centuries for a Busta XI in the opening tour match against the South Africans in Guyana.

Be that as it may, Hooper was also faced with a bowling attack which leaned too much on the aging Courtney Walsh, although Mervyn Dillon showed he has the ability to take wickets and leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine played his part. There was no improvement from the big fast bowler Nixon McLean; Cameron Cuffy was keen to justify his recall and - for the first time in 23 years - two specialist spinners played together in a Test for the West Indies when left-armer Neil McGarrell joined Ramnarine on an Antigua Recreation Ground pitch which turned from the first day.

At least new vice-captain Ridley Jacobs again tried his best and had the distinction of recording the only century to date by a West Indian in 11 Tests against South Africa. His wicket-keeping was also sound.

South Africa quickly realised that the (west Indian) conditions were different from theirs. Ironically, on the pitch which suited their bowlers best - Sabina Park - they lost by 130 runs. The make-up of the South Africa team for all of the Tests showed all-round depth even though the returns of a couple players left much to be desired. Pollock underlined the luxury of the batting by scoring an unbeaten century at No. 9 in the memorable - some may say infamous - third Test in Barbados where Jacobs also got his three figures.

That was a match in which both teams were rescued in the first innings by late-order resistance. And if Pollock, although being a good captain, was not so protective, he could have declared earlier on the final day and probably complete a win as West Indies tottered to 88 for seven after they were set 265 for victory in just over a session. In the end, West Indies' cause was helped by time-wasting tactics from Ramnarine and Dillon, both of whom were warned by match referee Mike Denness.

The West Indies batting was again disappointing in the fourth Test in Antigua, leading to an 82-run defeat before Walsh was given his request of a farewell win in the last Test in front of fellow Jamaicans. He ended the series as the top wicket-taker (25) and retired with 519 wickets at 24.45 runs in 132 Tests.

The South Africans always fielded a four-pronged pace attack. Pollock, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini and the inspirational all-rounder, Jacques Kallis, were mainly charged with the responsibility apart from the fourth Test when a hamstring injury sidelined Donald and the last when Ntini was dropped.

It can even be argued that there were five pacers by adding Lance Klusener, whose variety was handy while seamer Justin Kemp had a couple matches. There was support from the left-arm spin of Nicky Boje apart from the last Test when he had to return home for a shoulder operation, allowing the unorthodox left-armer Paul Adams to get a game.

Opener, Herschelle Gibbs, batted with assurance, along with the vastly experienced Daryll Cullinan, who was the only player to score two centuries in the series in the second highest aggregate of 459. Kallis could justifiably feel undone with a couple decisions but never really got cracking despite three half-centuries, while Neil McKenzie was steady at times in the middle.

The experienced opener Gary Kirsten fell away badly after a marathon innings of 150 in the first Test and Klusener and wicket-keeper Mark Boucher would want to forget their performances with the bat. Renowned for his big-hitting, Klusener's questionable technique was exposed and Boucher also had a rough time behind the stumps, conceding a whopping 79 byes.

There were 20 wickets apiece for Kallis and Pollock. In picking the top five performers, Walsh, Jacobs, Pollock, Cullinan and Kallis are hard to beat with Gibbs (most runs - 464) running close. It was only the second time in the last 27 years that West Indies had lost a Test series at home. The other was in 1995 when Australia, led by Mark Taylor, beat Richie Richardson's team 2-1 as well, but with the series locked 1-1 going into the last match in Kingston.

Let me join fellow journalist Neil Manthorp, of South Africa, who had his say last week, in pointing out that this column is a complimentary requested by the public relations firm for the WICB. I am indeed happy to have contributed.

(Keith Holder is an experienced award-winning Barbados sports journalist, who covered the West Indies-South Africa series for the Barbados Advocate newspaper. He is also the editor of the Carib Cricket Circle)